Newsletter #96

DRAKE NEWSLETTER 96: March 1, 2017

Dear People,

Well, the big news is that I seem to have gotten up to normal production in my writing. Though Hell Should Bar the Way is above 70K in draft and is proceeding (as I said) in normal fashion these past couple weeks.

Normal is about double the rate I’ve averaged since the previous newsletter.

Switching into a new mode for this book has been really tough. I’m a volunteer: nobody drafted me to write books. I’ve learned new techniques, and I’ve controlled what I could control. While I’m not proud of my rate of progress, I am proud that I made some progress every single day. I’m a professional.

I’m also pleased with the writing. I’m not saying it’ll be a masterpiece or that everybody will love it, but line by line it’s a very solid book.

My webmaster, Karen, will have gotten the report of my Greece trip live by the time this comes out. (She does the work on both, so that’s a guarantee.) I wrote captions for approximately 80 pictures. The process brought back memories of the trip itself, which was really neat.

In the planning stage, Glenn referred to this as ‘the trip of a lifetime,’ but I never really felt about it that way. To begin with, I’m still alive. Further, though this and the Italy trip in 2013 by the same two couples were wholly different, I’d be unwilling to claim one was better than the other. I gained knowledge and emotional understanding on both trips that I couldn’t have gotten any other way.

But you know, that’s pretty generally true of my life. It’s not that every day is special, but there’s generally something to learn from everything I do if I go into it with the right attitude.

Actually, that was true even in the army when I certainly didn’t have the right attitude. I tried desperately to insulate myself from what I was doing and what was happening around me (among other things, by studying 4th century ad panegyrics for clues toward the reconquest of Britain by Constantius Chlorus), but I learned a great deal in those two years which I couldn’t have learned any other way.

Come to think, Viet Nam/Cambodia really was the trip of a lifetime. The person who was drafted in 1969 had vanished there by 1971; the person walking around now has been rebuilt completely. Most trips and events, though, are just additive to the existing me.

Greece was neat. I hope that any of you who dip into my 15K trip report will at least get a flavor of that.

Titan is bringing out the whole RCN series in the UK at a book every two months. These are lovely volumes. The Far Side of the Stars is due in April.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do heavy yard work to stay healthy. There are risks to the practice.

A few weeks ago, I got out the extension ladder to reset the (lovely) copper weathervane which friends had given us when we moved to the new house 20-odd years ago. I’d mounted it over 12 feet up on a cedar pole (actually juniper; junipers are called cedars in North Carolina). A violent windstorm caused some pine branches to knock the weathervane askew.

I started climbing with the partly-extended ladder leaned against the pole. My dad had said that even cedar would only last two or three years. I correctly thought he was wrong, but I was aware that decades in the ground might have reached the limit even of cedar. Therefore I wasn’t really surprised when the post started to go over when I was halfway up.

I stepped off, expecting to land with my knees flexed in the grass beneath. The wrist of my right gauntlet hooked over the ladder upright, locking me to it as we toppled to the right.

I’ve had experiences that felt like that before, but mostly when I was in uniform. I braced myself and turned my head away from the ground, because it was the only thing I could do. It was a hell of a thump, let me tell you.

I got up carefully, flexing my torso to make sure I didn’t have sharp pains on the side where I hit. (The pain on my left torso must have been a muscle; on the right it could have been cracked ribs.) I put the ladder away, moved the pole out of our driveway, and considered the next step.

Now: this wasn’t a big deal, but I’m aware that it could have been. My mom’s determination to garden led to a broken ankle and, five years later, death from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

But you know, she lived every day of her 78 years. If I spent my life making sure that everything I did was safe, I might be older when I die; but I wouldn’t have had much of a life. I’m going to follow my mother’s example in this. Among other things, this means that my ordinary transportation will continue to be a motorcycle; I haven’t driven a car since 1987.

I’ve been considering what my next major project will be after I finish the current one. Normally I’ve alternated between what I’m doing for Tor and what I’m doing for Baen; now I’m wholly within Baen.

The previous situation guaranteed that each new book would be really different from the one I’d just finished (though not necessarily strikingly different from other things I’ve written). This time I’m thinking harder.

One possibility would be a standard RCN novel. (The current one isn’t.) I could go back to Leary and Mundy as viewpoint characters, but perhaps on a larger scale than I’ve done with them before.

Or I could do a sequel to The Spark, which is coming out in September, 2017, from Baen. (This is the book I did for Tor but amicably withdrew and moved to Baen.) That was really different, though. I’d like to give it a little more time to see how it’s performing before I saddle Baen with another of them.

I did a sword and sorcery novelet for It worked artistically and was well liked by people who like S&S, Toni Weisskopf among them. (It’s not a Conan pastiche. It’s a story which I tried to write the way Robert E. Howard would have written if he’d had my knowledge of history).

A possible problem here is that I wouldn’t try to do the book unless I were going to do it realistically, as I did the novelet. The viewpoint character is a Gallic war chief: boastfully virile and casually sexist. There’s a faction of the SF public which is horrified if a leading character doesn’t behave like a TA in the English department, and it tends to be a loudly vocal faction.

I spent decades being abused by similar types (reviewers Charles Platt and Tom Easton among many) because I’m a Nam vet, so I’ve got a very good notion of how it feels; which is lousy. Sometimes you just have to scrunch up and take it (see my discussion above on being attached to a falling ladder), but it isn’t a lot of fun.

Or, heck, I could just do something straight military–possibly a Hammer book, possibly something new.

Those are notions I’m actively considering, but it’s a while before I start plotting and other things will almost certainly crop up before then. And obviously, I need to discuss this at length with Toni. I wouldn’t do a book I didn’t want to do for her (and she wouldn’t ask me to), but if she wants something that I find interesting more than she does other things that I find interesting–why not?

For now, back to work on the current novel, which has become fun. So, hoping that whatever you’re doing is fun also–best for now.

Dave Drake

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